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Politicians versus scientists

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THE 19th century British philosopher John Stuart Mill highly favored representative government as ideal but also issued a clear caveat: there is the certain risk, positive evils, he wrote, of electing into the system members with low intellect. Of these evils, he said, deficiency in high mental qualification is one to which it is generally supposed that popular, meaning democratic, government is liable in a greater degree than any other.

Nearly 200 years later, the top American doctor leading the fight against the COVID 19 crisis in his country echoed the same sentiment in straightforward manner, and official . Fauci had engaged in a verbal dust-up with an American Republican senator– actually two— during a committee hearing on the government’s pandemic campaign.

“What a moron,” Dr. Anthony Fauci was heard muttering in disgust. The nasty remark was captured by a hot microphone in the session hall as he rose from his seat after being pummeled with questions on his public financial investments by Sen. Roger Marshall. Fauci, obviously , was annoyed by Marshal’s repeated questions on where to get the information about the doctor’s financial investments which he had already answered.

Fauci’s recent head-butting exchanges with Republican senators is part of his continuing saga with them since he began disagreeing publicly with former US President Donald Trump who had indicated in his tweets that he wanted him out. Unfortunately, Fauci was usually the cool and soft-spoken doctor and more popular—credible, in fact — to the American people than the blond-haired president was.

With Trump and most of his party men still in denial about his big loss to President Joe Biden, Fauci hasn’t heard the last from his political nemesis. Add to that the death threats, harassments and obscene calls he believed were the results of the Republicans’ unrelenting hostility toward him. Besides, Trump is eyeing a comeback in 2024.

Fauci’s ongoing feud with Republican politicians is an unseen offshoot of the pandemic that has cost the lives of nearly 1 million Americans. Trump is partly blamed for mismanaging the health crisis , at one time even denying the viral plague was serious, which was contradicted many times by Fauci. This has made him a marked man ever since.

The whole scenario of Fauci fending off dart-like accusations from two Republican senators is instructive of what politics is as opposed to science. The latter is about getting to the truth; the former is getting political brownie points. Fauci said so when he told Sen. Ryan Paul that he was trying to gain politically at his expense. So maybe it’s not really about intellect but politics.

In a way, the rough- and -tough confrontation between an expert bureaucrat and his superiors in the Senate could be a part of a pandemic phenomenon in the US. Uncivility, rage and recklessness are said to be everywhere and appear to have never been as high as this time around. This is what Mill referred to as the rude age, which is characteristic of monarchy ( perhaps, even authoritarianism).

Health Secretary Francisco Duque is, in some ways, Fauci’s equivalent in the Philippines. Except that President Duterte has had his back for the longest time. When some senators called for his resignation, Duque simply responded that he served at the pleasure of the president. The president, on the other hand, said there was no reason for him to mistrust Duque. He once parroted an old headline to defend him : millionaires don’t steal.

Reports had come out left and right accusing the Duterte administration of mismanaging the pandemic, pointing at sheer incompetence of those at the top of the government’s health department. Even health leaders in the private sector had weighed in along the same line.But Duterte, Duque and other choir members had flatly denied the accusations and attributed these to politics as usual.

It’s all quiet now, especially with those who wanted Duque’s head busy courting people’s votes for the 2022 elections. Raising the Duque issue this time around could be counterproductive ,considering that Duterte still enjoys substantial public support as his term approaches its end. It’s no wonder he’s using that popularity to the hilt by telling voters to dump Senators Dick Gordon and Kiko Pangilinan.

The public knows why. The two senators, especially Gordon, are unstoppable in ferreting out the truth on the anomalies behind the controversial Pharmally deal that, so far, has damaged Duterte. Based on the result of surveys at the height of the Senate probe , his popularity had taken a big dip.

With the critics’ momentary pause and the government’s more aggressive campaign for people’s vaccination, the issues against Duque might just die a natural death. To be fair, unlike Fauci, Duque has been deferral of senators who had wanted him out. No bad word, no foul. With Duterte covering his back, he knew he was safe and there was no need to fight back in a rude way. Strategically, he must have weighed his situation on the scale of a convincing cost/benefit analysis. Prudence is the better part of valor.

It’s highly doubtful if Duque will enjoy the favor of a new administration. In fact, he might be subtly used as a poster boy for why a new health secretary would be necessary in the renewed campaign against the pandemic .With omicron making more people sick and faster than it has ever been, this scenario seems a no-brainer. Definitely, he will be a persona non grata in a Robredo administration because the vice president herself has been publicly critical of the health department’s, let alone, the Duterte administration’s ,flaws and failures.

Duque, looking at the presidential survey’s so far, might just be looking forward to quietly go into the night.

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